When the province announced its “reopening plan” on May 25, the day after its most recent “circuit breaker” restrictions expired, Jim Kent let out a huge sigh of relief.
Kent is the manager of the Tidemark Theatre, and he’s been waiting for quite some time to hear a timeline on when they can welcome people back to their facility. And now they have that.
And they’ll be ready to do so. At one point in this whole thing, there was a very real possibility that they might not be. Were it not for various levels of government support and the facility’s funders, Kent says, they would likely not have been able to re-open.
“The government help has been critical to our survival, as it has been for many arts facilities,” Kent says. “We managed to keep our heads above water, but without the wage subsidy, for example, we probably wouldn’t have.
“We’ve managed to not even really slow down since the pandemic started. We’ll be at well over 120 events on the season by the end of June, which is nowhere near our lowest event count for a season. Not by a long shot.”
The re-opening plan, Kent says, basically falls in line with what they were picturing as “the best case scenario” in terms of getting audience members back in the theatre, albeit probably only 50 at a time to begin with.
“But the devil’s in the details of the plan, obviously,” Kent acknowledges, “and all of the dates being set out are with a big caveat of (COVID case) numbers falling and vaccinations increasing and hospitalizations being down and so on.”
But however it goes, and whatever decisions are made by those enacting and removing restrictions, they’ll be ready.
“I like that the plan has clear goalposts and allows us to start planning now,” Kent continues, “and part of our planning will also include being able to pivot back should things change. We’ve been working for a while now on our 2021-2022 season, which gets going in September, and we already have a ton of stuff booked already, so now it’s a matter of figuring out whether they are with or without an audience. Maybe they happen with 50 people and a live stream on top of that, or maybe they’re online only.
“But my feeling is that once we get 50 people back in here and they see how safe it is – how safe it’s been – it will scale up pretty quickly,” he says.
So does the future of Tidemark shows look like people can either buy a ticket and attend in person or buy access to the show that’s streamed to their living room, instead, now that the theatre has invested in that capability?
Not necessarily, but it’s not out of the question.
“That conversation has started,” Kent says. “We can wish it a certain way, but the reality will be what the artists, agents and managers want.
“There are some logistical problems with that, too. Will a live show at the Tidemark that is also streamed affect the ticket sales for a show at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo? We certainly don’t want that.”
What he does see happening, however, is the Tidemark leveraging its newly-developed technological capabilities to expand its menu of offerings.